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Last Red Queen card drawn

Fundraiser brings in nearly $120,000, pays out over 75 percent to winners

Finally, the second Red Queen has been drawn. It took nearly two years, but the Lake Region Shrine Club in Day County brought in nearly $120,000 through this effort, one dollar at a time.

Of that money, two local people are recipients of a combined 75 percent payout of the pot, after weekly cash payouts. As a result of the success of the fundraiser, club members voted to make their single largest donation to the Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis, MN.

The winners of the Chase the Red Queen are Marleen Meester, Webster and Aaron Johnson, Bristol. Meester drew the final Red Queen card July 23 during the weekly event. She won $53,530 and Johnson won $26,765. After weekly card prizes, the club finished with a total of $107,060 and netted $26,765 for their own purposes.

“I was totally overwhelmed,” Meester said of her winning. “I still get that overwhelmed feeling thinking about it. You go, never thinking you’re going to win – it’s just the fun of participating.”

Meester has been going to the weekly fundraiser fairly regularly this summer although it’s been running since September 2019. While the pandemic of 2020 played a factor in the length of the event, club member Mike “Spaz” Spaniol said it was still a long-running fundraiser besides. Going in, club members knew it could be over in as few as two weeks and last as long as 54 weeks.

“None of us ever thought it’d go this long,” Spaniol said. Although the drawing was shut down from March to September 2020, he said it started up briefly before it was shut down again from November 2020 through March 2021.

The rules for the game were put together by club member Rob Kading. He said he borrowed the concept but tweaked the rules of play to suit their club – including the idea of drawing for two queens.

“I think it was a good fundraiser and fun for the community,” Kading said who added they borrowed and combined ideas for other fundraisers to create this one.

The Red Queen drawing was run by club members selling tickets for a chance to win. Each Friday night at the Decoy Bar in Webster, tickets were sold for $1 each between 6-8:30 p.m. and a drawing was held at 8:45 that same evening. The winning ticket holder was then given a chance to draw a single card from a standard playing deck with jokers in, which each had been sealed inside an envelope. They were seeking either the queen of diamonds or the queen of hearts. There were smaller cash prize payouts for certain special cards also.

The queen of diamonds was drawn fairly early on in the fundraiser – in the 15th week, to be exact – by an out-of-area fisherman. Aaron Johnson said he offered to buy the card from the young man and that the person was excited to receive the cash.

“Little did I know I’d have to wait a year and a half,” Johnson said with a laugh. But, he wasn’t necessarily disappointed that it went so long either, knowing that each week that passed, the pot grew as more tickets were bought and sold. Towards the end, he said, “My wife and I kept teasing, we’d say, ‘one more week, one more week.’”

There were just six cards left when Meester’s number was called last Friday. Meester said she’d been attending the event fairly regularly throughout the summer but felt surprised that her ticket number had been drawn. As she walked up and looked over her card choices, Meester said she felt a sense of intuition over which one she would pick.

“I just stood there and thought, ‘that’s the one I want,’” she said.

Upon opening the envelope Meester learned she’d chosen rightly.

“I was so shocked – I had to go home right after!” Meester said, laughing at the memory. “It’s been totally amazing. I’m grateful for everybody’s kindness about my winning. Everyone has been so nice.”

Johnson said he was not present when the second queen was drawn but was notified fairly quickly by those who were through text message. He said this is the largest prize he’s ever won. With part of his winnings, Johnson said he wants to take all the Lake Region Shriners out for a steak super, “just to pay them back for all they do to help the kids and the community.”

According to club treasurer Don Mahlen, the fundraiser picked up more and more as it went along. He said the first night they held the event, they brought in $300. Last Friday, he said it was their largest single night yet, netting over $11,000.

Mahlen said, because of the Red Queen fundraiser, the Lake Region Shriners will be able to afford the largest single donation they’ve ever made to the Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis, MN. He said they voted to donate $50,000 at this year’s annual gala in September. Mahlen pointed out the donation goes further through people who have committed to matching the funds they raise as a club.

“It makes you feel pretty good,” said Spaniol of the amount raised. “You see what it’s going for, helping out those kids and all the stuff they can do for them. It makes you feel pretty good when you see that.”

Spaniol said he and the other club members are appreciative of the support they’ve received from the community and to everyone who bought tickets. He said, “We never would have made this much money if not for all their support.”

Kading agreed. He said, “Our local people are a huge factor of the fundraising we do for this club... They always have been very generous supporters.”

The Lake Region Shrine Club’s community impact has not gone unnoticed by Meester either. She said, “The Shriners are one of the few organizations you know where the money goes. They help out that wonder hospital and those poor children with all their medical issues. This (local) organization has been so great at raising money. They’ve done lots of things to raise money and it’s wonderful to see them getting their kids involved. So many have sons who are now joining and becoming members, so you know it will be an on-going organization – plus they’re the highlight of any parade.”

Josh Bartos, club member said he feels this is a unique club as well.

“It says something, when you go to that gala and on their board of donors, we’re at the top,” he said. “The Mayo Clinic is under us even... We’ve got people who match whatever we raise. When you’re all done, we’ve turned $30,000 into $60,000. There isn’t a club like this anywhere else... But the club would be nothing without the community. I can’t say enough about this community. I hope it’s a good deal for the community too.”

Bartos said the Shriners organization just built a new children’s hospital and he’s looking forward to making this year’s donation.

“When you go in there (the hospital) and you see the kids –they see the fez on top of your head and the kids come running,” he said. “It’s the best. It’s all about the kids.”

Hearing stories from fundraiser supporters is also a humbling experience, Bartos said. People will often tell Shrine members how the Shriners have impacted their lives.

Bartos is optimistic about the future of the club as well. He said many members now have their sons joining which he said makes it possible for the legacy to keep getting passed down.

According to Kading, the local shrine club intends to take a month or so off from fundraising but then come back at it with something again, possibly another version of the Red Queen Drawing.

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